Shure Aonic 215 review: True wireless earbuds for audiophiles

Shure may be a well-known audio brand among musicians and audiophiles, but it has lost control of consumer wireless headphones. Well, now the company finally has a set of true wireless earbuds and they’re not your typical AirPods clones, although at $ 279 (£ 259; AU $ 146), they cost slightly more than Apple’s. AirPods Pro.

Like it

  • Innovative design with removable Bluetooth module
  • Several ear tips included to ensure an airtight seal
  • Includes Shure SE215 earphones but other Shure earphones can be connected
  • Detailed and accurate sound with tight bass and transparency mode
  • 8 hours of battery life with three additional charges from the charging case (32 hours total)
  • Good call quality, even if the audio is mono for calls only

I do not like

  • Dear
  • Large charging case
  • Controls are limited at launch
  • Mono voice calls (audio comes out of right earphone only)

The interesting thing about them is that the Bluetooth module is detachable. As the name suggests, the Aonic 215 True Wireless Noise Isolating Earphones incorporate Shure’s SE215 gems, the $ 99 entry-level model in its line of earphones with detachable cables. But the modules, which can be purchased separately for $ 230 (£ 209; $ AU120), are designed to drive any Shure headset which have a detachable cable, including the $ 1,000 SE846.

The Aonic 215 in white. It also comes in clear, blue and black.

David Carnoy / CNET

Oddly, I’m kind of an audiophile equivalent of the Beats Powerbeats Pro. They have a hook that wraps around the top of the ear and stayed in my ears very securely (even more firmly than the Powerbeats Pro earphones). And like that Beats model, they have a huge charging case. While it’s technically bigger than the Powerbeats Pro’s case, it doesn’t feel bigger, perhaps because it’s slightly thinner.

Read more: The best true wireless earbuds of 2020

A Shure rep told me they don’t have a water resistance rating, but said they should be fine for light workouts, considering Shure earbuds are used by musicians, some of whom sweat a lot during performances. However, if you are looking for real sports headphones, this is not it. But, as I said, they really fit in your ears (and in them too).

Aonic 215 alongside Beats Powerbeats Pro.

David Carnoy / CNET

As with other noise isolating earphones, it is crucial to get an airtight seal to get really good sound. Of all the included rubber pads – there are many – only the largest set of foam pads provided me with that airtight seal. But at least one of the options worked and you should be able to find one that works for you.

Sound is not for everyone. As I said, these are geared towards audiophiles and have a more neutral sound profile with well balanced, well detailed sound and good definition in the bass. For someone who is used to headphones that are more boosted in the highs and lows, they might sound a little flat, but if you value accurate and clean sound you’ll love them.

This is probably not the headphone you would buy if you listen to a lot of hip hop or electronic music with pounding bass lines. These will be better for rock, classical, jazz and more “refined” music. Well recorded songs and albums like Caetona Veloso and David Byrne Live at Carnegie Hall feel really good.

I tried Shure’s $ 1,000 SE846 Buds Bluetooth modules, which are heavier, have quad drivers and metal rather than plastic pins (stick the grommets on the poles). Yes, they are better: sound more open, articulate and richer with deeper bass (the SE846 also has physical filters that you can add to modify the sound). The SE846s are easier to drive than the SE215s, so they sound a little louder. The SE215 is actually the hardest to drive of its earbuds, according to Shure, and an update to the ShurePlus Play app for iOS and Android will allow you to select which earbuds you’re using with the Bluetooth modules.

Frankly, it’s overkill to use very expensive headsets with a Bluetooth module (true, the SE846 comes with a wired Bluetooth option, but you also get a pro-grade wired cable). Yes, these support Apple compatible AAC audio codec along with aptX if your device can stream aptX (Samsung Galaxy phones do). But with high-end Shure earphones, you’ll want to use the cable for critical listening sessions. That said, the idea here is that if you want to go truly wireless, now you can.

The detachable Bluetooth model with SE215 and SE846.

David Carnoy / CNET

Battery life is estimated to be 8 hours, which is fast becoming the standard for the latest Bluetooth 5.0 true wireless earbuds (the charging case offers three additional charges for a total of 32 hours) while the earbuds automatically turn off when you put them in the charging case, you have to manually activate each gem. These have physical buttons and the controls are initially quite limited, but will expand through software updates that will allow for some customization of the left and right earphone controls (currently, there is no way to advance tracks, nor are there any volume controls) . Upon startup, you can pause and play your music, as well as answer and end calls with a single press. A triple press activates your device’s voice assistant. And pressing the left or right control button twice activates a transparency mode so you can hear what’s going on around you and even hear your voice in the bud when you’re making a voice call.

Actually, I should say “bud” not “buds”, because these only have mono for calls: the sound comes out of the right bud only as it does on Free Bose Soundsport, a feature some people have complained about with that headset. Too bad because they are decent for making calls and have two beamforming microphones in the right Bluetooth module to pick up your voice. The next generation is expected to add stereo voice calls but cannot be added to the current model. (You can use the right earphone alone for calls for those who care about that feature).

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine is promoting the new Shure headphones, which also include a full-size noise-canceling model.

Safe

The companion app allows you to adjust the transparency level. It can also play high fidelity lossless tracks if you have a collection of the ones you want to store on your phone. Unfortunately, the app equalizer only works in the app with music stored on your phone, not in music streaming services.

Overall, I think this is an interesting concept. Yes, it looks a bit like a first generation. And yes, it’s a little quirky and overpriced, especially considering its feature list is limited compared to other high-end true wireless earbuds out there. For example, you can buy the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which offers active noise cancellation and slightly richer sound with more powerful bass, for around $ 20 more.

But I liked the Aonic 215. It has a distinct design that is definitely in keeping with Shure’s heritage of in-ear monitors and will make you look like a musician wearing them even if you’re not. I just think that to find a larger audience, they will have to approach $ 200.